Tom Coburn And Taxpayer’s Alliance Point Out Terrible Wastes Of Public Money, Like Public Health, Museums
Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn diligently posts a blog of instances where taxpayer money has been wasted, and just like a nerdy music lover, has made a list of the silliest wasting of American taxpayer money in 2008.
Of course, “waste” is a rather subjective term – I’m not sure money spent on teaching children to grow healthy food, or on bicycle-riding initiatives, can really be described as such even if they are over-funded. And he seems to hate museums and local history for some reason, especially an art museum in Iraq that received $13m funding – we went there to bring democracy, not culture, damn it! But there are some nice moments:
- A report found that school funds to the tune of $367,000 had been misspent in Cleveland. From the Texas Education Agency: “The district did not provide lesson plans or other documentation to show how rental of an inflatable alligator and an under-the-sea waterslide supported reading instruction”.
- Burying power lines in order to beautify Scottsville, Virginia, went $200,000 over its $392,000 budget, is a year behind schedule, and caused local businesses to go bankrupt thanks to the disruption caused. Did the mayor hope to return the town to a more beautiful era with the landscaping work? “It’s not a certain era, per se, just a time we didn’t have power lines”.
- $100,000 given to University of California, Irvine, to study the differences in how American and Chinese nerds play World of Warcraft. Result: the Chinese play a “more challenging” version of the game.
- $200,000 for a memorial plaza commemorating a 1993 flood in Mississippi, built on a frequently under-water flood plain.
- $188,000 on the Lobster Institute, Maine, which does some worthwhile sounding research but then spunks the rest on a 24-hour lobster webcam attached to a lobster pot, and developing lobster-flavour dog treats called Lobster Bisque-Its. To be honest, that pun alone is worth a few grand.
- $9.4m for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life Institute. Come on.
But what about these shores? Where have we been misguidedly pumping funds? Well, the Taxpayer’s Alliance, the independent body devoted to challenging any and every expenditure of public funds, and who the Daily Mail and Express have on speed-dial for stories like “All inmates eat halal chicken in Scots jail – because 7 of them are Muslims”, are constantly outing “culprits”.
Like our senator friend above, they rather negate the impact of the real abuses of misplaced spending by attacking anything and everything – promotion of public health and fitness, protecting the vulnerable, that sort of thing. It’s full of terrible arguments as well: “MFI may go broke this week, costing thousands of jobs, but there’s 575 new jobs in government, all paid for by the taxpayer”. But they’ve justly highlighted some funny stuff in the last few months:
- Suffolk council make chocolate and play the drums to effect team spirit, spending £6,000 in the process.
- Cambridge council use undercover officers and anti-terror laws to nail a very slightly illegal paperboy ring, where the kids were being employed without a proper permit.
- But my favourite is this story, perhaps the most boring use of public funds ever recorded. A book, a whole book, recording the history of the now-defunct postal regulator Postwatch was made for £30,000 and given away free, instead of having its information put up on the internet. I can barely keep my eyes open just thinking about it.
If you cast an eye over their site though, most of the stuff the TA gets het up about is over the most piddling sums, unlike in the States where enormous million-dollar grants seem to get lost under the carpet with alarming regularity, according to Coburn. How does that happen? Isn’t there a rather expensive war on?